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Thursday, Sep 21, 2017
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Florida voters need to do homework

TAMPA - Casting a ballot might require a little homework this year after the Legislature rewrote many provisions of election law and drew up new district maps. Voters go to the polls Tuesday to whittle down the slate of candidates for local offices in the primary election. In most cases, registered Democrats and Republicans will vote within their respective parties to determine which candidate moves on to the November general election ballot. There are also nonpartisan races for school board, judge and some other offices. But voter registration cards that have been tucked into wallets and purses for the last decade may be outdated, and election officials urge those heading for precincts to take a good look at their new ones. Lawmakers must redraw political boundaries for local offices after every 10-year census. That means voters may find themselves in a new district or a similar district with a different number, and they may have to alter their voting rituals.
"Voters should be aware that their precinct and their polling place may have changed," said Earl Lennard, supervisor of elections for Hillsborough County. "They should check their voter information card for the location of their polling site." That's critical because voters must vote in their precinct on Election Day. During early voting, they may cast ballots at any early-voting site. "Some of our early-voting sites are not polling places on Election Day," Lennard said. "We get a number of people who will go to, for example, the SouthShore Library to vote early, but that's not a regular voting site." District and precinct information is also available online at all county elections supervisors' websites. Another change, in Pasco and Pinellas counties at least: Voters who have moved and have a different address than the one in the voter registry must provide the new address and cast what is known as a "provisional" ballot. The ballot should eventually pass muster and be counted, but it requires a review by election officials. In the past, those voters could cast traditional ballots. That stems from an overhaul of state election law passed by the Legislature in 2011. However, the changes are not in effect in Hillsborough and four other counties. Any changes to elections in those five counties, which have a history of voting irregularities, require federal approval. That has not yet been granted, so those five counties will be operating under the old rules. The Legislature's 2011 action also shortened the early voting period, made it harder for third-party groups to conduct voter registration drives and reduced the shelf life of signatures on citizen initiative petitions. The overhaul is the subject of several lawsuits and administrative challenges. Early voting statistics show a turnout ahead of previous primaries, said both Lennard and Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley. Nonetheless, primary elections typically have notoriously low turnouts – a situation that irks Corley. "I would submit that a county commissioner or a school board member realistically has more of a day-to-day impact on our life as citizens than, say, the president," he said. "Sadly, the turnout will be lackluster, when in November, it'll be 75 percent-plus."

jstockfisch@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7834

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